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The Mass Media

High Tuition and Fees Getting You Down? Join PHENOM!

Jason Campos

Jason Campos

Last February, representatives of students, staff and faculty organizations throughout the Massachusetts state university and community college system formed the Public Higher Education Network of Massachusetts (PHENOM). This academic year, PHENOM is kicking our organizing efforts into high gear to push for a better funded and more democratic public higher education system in the Commonwealth.

Participating in the public higher education system has become a bleaker prospect for many at UMass Boston over the last 20 years. Students, staff, and faculty often have to struggle financially in order to stay here. Living in a state where private colleges and universities, who educate under half the college students in Massachusetts but claim over half the federal aid, dominate the higher education system is tough for most of us.

Students are, as a result, forced to pay higher tuition and fees. Staffers fight to make ends meet while unions agitate for living wages with good benefits and working conditions for all workers on campus, including cafeteria workers and custodians. A majority of the faculty are non-tenure track adjunct faculty with no promise of permanent employment and much lower pay and benefits than tenured faculty, victims of the new political economy of universities in America, where bean-counting administrators try to save labor costs on the backs of the people who teach us.

The entire situation is a result of the continuous cuts to federal funding for higher education that have come since the 1980s. Federal cuts beget further budget cuts in the Massachusetts Legislature. State cuts force the UMass system to raise tuitions and fees in an effort to keep us at an even financial keel. We can only stop these cuts and build a better public higher education system if students, staff and faculty work together in the political arena for change. We do this if we’re organized and have an action plan. Now, with PHENOM, we’ve got an organization. And soon, with your help, we’ll have a great plan for moving forward.

The Undergraduate Student Senate, Graduate Employee Organization, Classified Staff Union, Professional Staff Union, and Faculty Staff Union have just formed a UMB PHENOM Council to coordinate our local PHENOM organizing. Any student group with more than 50 members that’s interested in joining the Council should contact us right away. Any student that wants to get active in the fight for a better public higher education should do the same.

We’ll be going over to Framingham State College on October 26th for the first PHENOM Assembly, where activists from over a dozen state colleges and universities will democratically decide on our action plan for the coming year, and will elect a new statewide Steering Committee to work with the new PHENOM office in Amherst to keep our nascent movement growing between big meetings. In November, we’ll be having a PHENOM educational event here at UMB. If you want to get up to speed on the latest public higher education issues, drop on by. Stay tuned to these pages over the next few weeks for more info on that and other upcoming PHENOM events.

Over the coming months, we’ll be educating, rallying and lobbying for a better public higher education system, and a better UMB. We look forward to a day when higher education is considered a right for everyone, the hallmark of membership in a democratic society-not a privilege for the few.

We invite the UMB administration to work closely with us on this important project. After all, the main duty of any university administration is to raise money for its school from the largest and most logical sources. While it is tempting in an age dominated by a pro-corporate ideology, to go tailing after local companies for what amount to crumbs from Harvard and MIT’s financial table, a couple million bucks here and there is not going to solve our collective funding crisis. Particularly when corporate “gifts” often come with strings attached that compromise our core educational programs. Smart leadership will work with us to dip from the most appropriate wells for a public school with a mission to educate the people of Boston and environs. The state and federal governments are those wells. All of us help fill those wells through our taxes. So wouldn’t it be nice if we saw a good chunk of that money go to useful pursuits like public higher education, rather than wasted on unjust wars and tax givebacks to the rich and powerful?

Join us. UMB PHENOM can be contacted by [email protected] and by phone at 617-287-3109 or 617-287-6295. Our website is umbphenom.wikispaces.com.

Jason Pramas is a doctoral student in Public Policy, and Chair of the UMB Graduate Employee Organization/UAW Local 1596.